Like Father, Like Son
Chris Simms has now joined his father in the family business—for the second time. After a seven-year career (2003-09) as a backup quarterback for the Bucs, Titans and Broncos, Simms spent 2012 as a coaching assistant for the Patriots before joining Fox Sports as a college football analyst. Last year the 34-year-old joined Bleacher Report, where he works as an NFL analyst. This season the younger Simms moved to CBS Sports as a commentator on NFL game broadcasts, and he appears on CBS Sports Net NFL programming such as That Other Pregame Show.
Phil Simms, of course, is the lead NFL analyst for CBS Sports, a role he has held since joining the network in 1998, after short stints with ESPN and NBC. Simms played his entire 15-year career with the New York Giants and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXI upon leading New York to a 39–20 victory over the Broncos. The 60-year-old Simms is also is an analyst for Showtime.
Last week The MMQB sat down with father and son for a 60-minute conversation at a recording studio in the Flatiron District of Manhattan.
Phil, you have now spent more years in a broadcast booth than as a football player. How odd, if at all, is that?
Phil Simms: I don’t think about stuff like that. I very seldom think about my playing days. It was a whole different life and I guess to think that I have been in this job longer than I played football is a little strange, because I didn’t think I would ever be in this business. I always thought I would coach. I lucked into this business, and I lucked into this business because I was the first salary cap casualty in 1994. It happened out of nowhere. I was voted to the Pro Bowl that season. I thought I had one of my best years.
Phil Simms: Yeah. I was truly going to ask the Giants for a raise.
How old were you at the time?
Phil Simms: I was 38. They brought me in and told me they were going to release me. I was like, “Are you sh----- me?” Dan Reeves brought me into his office and I could see that he was really nervous. I was like, “Wow, what is going on here?” They caught me by surprise. I didn’t know what to do. I told them I had offers from other teams and they basically said good for you, we are not going with you. Then ESPN brought me in as a broadcaster.
Chris Simms: Dad had me his rookie year in the NFL so when he retired I was 14. Dad will tell you that as a 5-year-old, I could tell you every player on the Giants. I was always attuned to the NFL. I was also the kid that in May would throw in one of Dad’s game from October and watch it. I do think about Dad’s broadcasting career now being longer than it was as a player. Some of my younger friends have no clue who Dad played with. They know him as the guy on CBS or maybe they know he had one of the greatest Super Bowls ever. For selfish reasons, I think maybe this combination is the way Dad will get in the Hall of Fame— because of a football-life accomplishment. In my opinion, Dad is the second-most underrated quarterback in the history of the game.
Who is first?
Chris Simms: Jim Plunkett. He won two Super Bowls and nobody talks about the guy. He won a Heisman Trophy and was the first pick in the draft. I look at Dad and he has better numbers than a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame, and I would say he had less talent around him as far as the passing guys game goes.
Chris, you played for Jon Gruden. Is his being a commentator for Monday Night Football a surprise, or something you could have seen back then?
Chris Simms: I could have seen it. Gruden is probably my second favorite announcer behind Dad. He always had the personality and passion for the game. The funny thing is, when I look back and remember being in the locker room or mess hall, there would be someone analyzing our game and Gruden would say, “Shut this sh-- off. I don’t want to hear this.” Now he is the guy doing that.
Phil, when Chris was a little kid, could you have seen broadcasting as a path for him?
Phil Simms: Yeah, I probably could have just because he liked sports so much. All my friends used to make fun of Christopher saying that this probably what he would do. The neighbors would call him Mr. Talk Radio. As his life went on, I thought he was going to coach. Right or wrong, I never said a lot of things to my kids trying to influence them. But I am glad he is not coaching, though.
Chris, you did coach for a bit with the Pats in 2012 as a quality-control coach and part-time scouting assistant. What was your title?
Chris Simms: B---- boy (laughs). New England makes you do two jobs for the price of half of one (laughs). But it was a great experience. I don’t think there is a harder place to start in the business and that is what other coaches who are friends of mine say to me. They say, “Chris, you started at the worst place possible.” My wife always knew I would be an NFL player but I don’t think she knew how encompassing it would be to be an NFL coach. I dated her in high school and we were on and off through college and my first year in the NFL. We got married right after my second year in the league.
Chris, having once worked for the Patriots, how do you see this Deflategate story?
Chis Simms: The biggest rule follower I was ever around was Bill Belichick. If he got word there were people betting five dollars on the NBA Finals, there would be an email to everyone in the building on how that is against the collective bargaining agreement. We were going to have a Masters Pool and he put the kibosh on that. He was very much into making sure the employees and players knew the rules of the NFL. I would be shocked if he knew anything about this. To me this is not a Bill Belichick/New England thing. I think it is a quarterback/ball boy thing and I think that this is where we are going with it.
So, Chris, even if I take you at your word on Belichick, how do you explain his reputation as a rules bender. Why is that case?
Chris Simms: Look, we all know about Spygate. But they are also the most successful organization in the NFL so everyone is trying to find a reason [to beat them] and [Belichick] is not exactly the most charismatic guy in the world. He doesn’t give himself the benefit of the doubt . I look at Spygate two ways: First, I don’t think they were the only team in the NFL filming signals. They did it to get back at the Jets because they felt the Jets had done it. There is also a side of me that thinks Spygate was brilliant because I don’t think it was in the rulebook at that time as far as saying you can’t do it.
Phil Simms: [Belichick] knows the rules great, he knows them like a lawyer. The word genius is thrown around way too much. So how do you declare a genius? By IQ?. Well, I’m sure his IQ is genius level. He knows the rules the way a lawyer knows which questions to ask in a courtroom. Also, if I was a betting man, I would bet a lot of money he did not know about the footballs. Look, if you are a quarterback in the NFL, you can tell the difference between 9.9 and 10 [psi]. It is in your hand. That is your life, that football.
Phil, what is Belichick like in CBS production meetings compared to other coaches?
Phil Simms: We get a tremendous wide range of the people who talk with us in production meetings. Some coaches literally tell us everything and you cannot write it down fast enough. You go, “Is this on the record?” They say, “Sure.” I asked Bill before the Carolina-New England Super Bowl what his coaching style is. He said, “I believe in pressure, I believe in threatening jobs, livelihoods, way of lives.” Sometimes it is really rough with him; other times he is the greatest personality we deal with.
Phil, you were a player when he was a coach on the Giants, right?
Phil Simms: I have known Bill since 1979.
Does he treat you differently because you have that history?
Phil Simms: There is a lot of history there with us and we might talk about something that happened in 1982 just to get things going. He loves history, so anytime we talk about something new, you can’t fool him. Will he give me trusted information in front of a group – in front of [broadcast partner] Jim [Nantz] and our producers – no it won’t happen. But if I call him or we see each other on the field, he will give me some very trusted information.
Phil, which coaches have given away everything and more?
Phil Simms: Bill Cowher was one. He told me about the onside kick in Super Bowl XXX, including when he would do it.
For both of you, how do you watch a Super Bowl that you are not working as a broadcaster?
Phil Simms: I listen and watch broadcasts but only hear a certain amount of things. I know that’s how the fan is too. They tune you out. And when we are watching the Super Bowl together, there are always people talking, which bothers me.
Chris Simms: Yeah, we never get a quiet house. My sister [Deirdre] always invites an extra 10 people over.
Phil Simms: Last year it was just Christopher, [younger son] Matt [who plays for the Jets] and we saw everything. We’d be like “Oh, man they played this coverage. They should have done this or this.”
Chris Simms: We all thought Seattle was going to win.
Phil Simms: We talk about the game like ex-players as we watch it.
Chris, what is it like watching a Super Bowl your Dad is calling?
Chris Simms: I’m always listening with more intent when Dad is doing the game, and Dad and I text during games. Dad might text during a commercial break or he’ll call me at halftime. He’ll ask me what I think or if this there is anything they are missing. I think once I got to the NFL, Dad knew I had a clue as to what I was talking about.
So, Phil, were you using Chris as a scout of sorts?
Phil Simms: It’s not that. It’s about being a fan and there is nothing worse than watching at home and thinking why did that happen. When you are doing the game, you wonder if you are getting everything. When I watch at home, I can see everything. There is no pressure, no thought process. I’m just screaming, “How in the hell can you score a touchdown from there, can somebody tell me?” I want to make sure I wasn’t leaving the viewer with questions, which is why I text him. But I probably text or read texts from four people during games. I prefer not to say who they are but they are ex-coaches who watch the game.
Have you two ever worked together?
Phil Simms: Just once on a draft show last year. It was on CBS and produced by an independent company that bought time.
Chris Simms: We’ve done some pregame hits for the CBS Sports Network.
Phil Simms: Yeah, it was like, “Hey, Dad, when I’ve seen you on TV, you have a big head.”
Chris Simms: I will say I was more nervous when I did something with Dad for the first time than with other stuff. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was just a father-son thing. I wanted to say the right thing and for him to approve. I remember doing the draft show thinking, I’m doing a draft show with Dad.
Phil Simms: I don’t know if pride is the right word but I liked being on with him. I have been around him my whole life and I know he will know what he is talking about. I just want it to be natural and have fun with him. I do hits with him all the time on Bleacher Report and they are always busting me, which I love.
Chris, how do feel about your Dad’s stance on not saying the Redskins name on air?
Chris Simms: I’m with Dad, but I can’t stop saying it. I have a hard time doing it when I making videos for Bleacher Report. I say the word and then I say to myself, “Damn, I wish I didn’t say it.” If I can just consciously think about it a hair before, I will try to avoid it because I believe it is a racist word to a group of people and I believe the name has to be changed.
Phil Simms: I got crushed in Washington. People think [the criticism] bothers me, but I don’t care.
Will there be an opportunity for you and Chris to do an NFL game together?
Phil Simms: I would probably say we will do one. Of course it depends on what network he would be working for. These jobs are tough to get.
Chris Simms: I certainly would love that but I have never even thought about it, because to me I am not sure it can possibly happen.
Phil Simms: Oh, it can happen and if we do it, it will be funny and great. It will be more about us being together and we can really talk and cover a game the way we want to cover it. It would be interesting and a lot of fun.
Chris Simms: The first thing that jumped out to me as a kid was his board. He makes a board with all the positions. I can remember as a kid him writing notes underneath each of the players, like the left tackle is great in the run game and not so great against the power rush. I would see him watch film and prepare for games. I realized, Oh, wow, he’s not just going into games and B.S.-ing his way through them.
Chris, as a young broadcaster Joe Buck had to deal with the perception that he had been given opportunities because of who is father was. How, if at all, have you had to negotiate that path?
Chris Simms: That has been a lifelong journey for me, even in football. It was, “He’s only getting the credit because his last name is Simms.” That was always something I had to deal with. But I don’t hear people say it to me in broadcasting. I’m sure people think it. But I am very comfortable in my own skin and I work very hard at it. I had aspirations once to be a head coach but my wife was like, “I’m not sure I signed up for this. Will we move every two years to climb the NFL ladder?” I have been around the NFL my whole life. It is where I am the most connected, it is where I have the most passion, and I work very hard at it. People can say what they want, but I hope if you hear me do a game or listen to me on Bleacher Report, I hope people realize I am honest and I have done the preparation to give good analysis.
For both of you: Marshawn Lynch has made it clear that he does not want to talk to the media. Both of you are former players now working in the media. What is an NFL players’ responsibility to the media and why?
Chris Simms: I’ll say this about Marshawn Lynch: I think it is refreshing. Not disrespecting the media, but just in an age where we have to build our brand and tweet 5,000 things a day, I love the fact that he just doesn’t give a damn about that and just wants to play football. Having said that, it is part of your job to talk to the media. You want to convey how you feel or your teammates feel to the fans.
Phil Simms: Him not talking to the press on a scale of 1-10 is a big zero for me. I could not care less. What player says anything anyway most of the time because of the age we live in? Should he come out there and say “yes,” and “okay?” I’m sure he’ll talk at the Super Bowl but it is going to be “thank you for asking that” kind of thing. It doesn’t bother me when players don’t want to talk to me when I do games. I respect that and we will live without that quote from them. Same with Marshawn. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who has a lot of act to him.
Chris, your Dad was the subject of a petition in Denver this year with people calling for him not to broadcast that team. What do you make of that kind of thing?
Chris Simms: It’s been going for years with Denver. I think the thing I get the biggest kick out of is I am friends with the Shanahan family. Kyle Shanahan is one of my best friends. He went to college with me and I played a year in Denver. Even then I heard, “Your Dad does not like the Broncos.” It is ridiculous. I mean, one of Dad’s two or three best friends in football is Mike Shanahan. He is not rooting against the Broncos. Now that I am in the business, I hear it about me too, that I don’t like some team.
Phil Simms: I’ll go on the radio in Denver and usually make fun of it.
Chris, you recently told Peter King that you did not think Tom Brady was a top-five quarterback. Do you stick with that?
Chris Simms: I am sticking with that. Listen, people get very defensive here and Dad will tell you, Tom Brady is one of my favorite quarterbacks of all time. He got me an autographed helmet of Brady when I was heading off to college. But at this point in his career, to think that he is one of the five best QBs when you have some of the young, talented guys in the NFL right now, it is ridiculous. It is like saying Kobe Bryant is one of the five best players in the NBA right now. I’m sorry, he’s not. He’s not better than LeBron [James], Russell Westbrook, [Kevin] Durant and some of the other guys. Brady has done amazing things and he is one of the three or four greatest quarterbacks of all time—and after this Super Bowl he might be the greatest. At this point in his career he is still very good and they can win a Super Bowl with him but they do it so many ways—he has the greatest coach in history on his side.
Phil Simms: If Brady wins I would say that the title of most accomplished quarterback in history is his. But I hate all those kind of titles and talk of legacy. It is silly.
Phil: You have been in the business since 1994. How much do you feel in a given year that your job is on the line?
Phil Simms: I feel it every week. I wake up every week and think like, “By God, we are going to win this game.” I get insulted easily as far as certain things. Someone said that I was on top of everything for Tennessee-Jacksonville this year and I’ll go: “Yeah, did you think I would take the week off?” It was insulting. I was looking forward to it. I wanted to see what is going on with these franchises. I mean, I wasn’t really offended but every week it is truly just like playing in that respect. We have to do the best we can do to make sure we cover the game better than everyone else.
Chris, New England against Seattle is a great matchup on paper. How do you think this will play out?
Chris Simms: There are a ton of great storylines and X’s and O’s matchups. There is the old saying, “Is it the Jimmys and Joes or the X’s and the O’s?” I look at New England as the X’s and O’s but I think this is the best New England team since 2007. Then I look at Seattle and they are not overly complex on either side of the ball, but man, do they have some killers on both sides of the ball. New England’s weakness is stopping the run and Seattle can run the football. But at the same time, New England has a great secondary and New England can load the box. They will not be too worried about the Seattle pass game.
Then on the other side of the ball, look at all of New England’s formations and shifts and the crazy stuff they do. But that won’t work against Seattle, because they play just three defenses. You will not confuse them with the crazy formations. New England’s best mismatch is Rob Gronkowski, but I don’t know if there is team that matches up better with him than Seattle because of Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright. And if they split Gronkowski out wide, is there a corner more suited to stop a big tight end then Richard Sherman? There are a lot of underlying themes. I picked Seattle all year long and I am leaning toward them. I think Seattle will win a close game.
Phil Simms: I think this game is impossible to blow up. These two teams are absolutely the two teams in the league that can fight you for 60 minutes. Every playoff team likes to think they are but it isn’t true for many reasons including talent and coaching. But Seattle and New England can withstand and fight longer than other teams. I’m definitely leaning toward Seattle right now.
Chris Simms: These are the two teams that shoot themselves in the foot the least. They just don’t f--- the game up.
Phil Simms: Excuse me?
Chris Simms: (laughs) That’s my Jersey-flavor there coming out.
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